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The problem with leaf blower bans

By January 13, 2022 No Comments

Margaret wants to kill them all

When the New York Times hires you as an opinion writer, we know you can write. And Margaret Renkl penned an entertaining opinion piece on banning leaf blowers (‘Let’s kill all the leafblowers‘, New York Times, October 26, 2021).

First, let’s go over the bad news and then I will tell you the key point from my commercial scale landscape professional side. I can’t touch Renkl’s writing but I hope I can make this blog post somewhat readable.

Mechanical locusts

Renkl describes gas-powered leaf blowers as ‘mechanical locusts’ and then tells us that her comparison is an insult to the locusts. And, I agree, commercial gas-powered leaf blowers are loud. They’re also heavy. And, yes, they pollute the air.

You can, of course, pay a bit more cash and run the machines with Aspen fuel developed in Sweden. Aspen is 99% cleaner than regular gasoline and therefore gentler on the machine parts. But it’s also pricey.

I also like Renkl’s other points. Like the bit about leaf blowers dislodging insects from their winter hiding spots. I actually did this recently. When I blew a pile of leaves from a corner, I discovered a small frog underneath. Oh! So I left some leaves over top of it. I hope it found the refuge it was looking for.

Landscapers don’t often consider what’s in the dust they’re blowing. I’m sure Renkl is right, the dust definitely contains heavy metals, pollen, mold, animal feces, and chemicals from pesticides and herbicides. This isn’t something landscape company owners cover in their training sessions.

Not a great place to broom.

2021 technology

Soon after Renkl’s opinion piece was published, we got an epic wet fall which caused massive floods in my province of British Columbia. The rain made leaf clean-up extremely difficult and it would have been a nasty, prolonged affair without the help of Stihl’s 800 model leaf blower.

The 800 Stihl gas-powered leaf blower is probably what landscapers in hell are using. It’s a perfect combination of air volume and air speed. It blows away soggy leaves, frogs and garden gnomes. It’s easy to fall in love with it.

The key point!

This is the key to this blog post: the leaf blower technology isn’t there yet for commercial landscape operators. The batteries don’t achieve the required air speed. Yet.

How the batteries get protected from our West Coast rains is another mystery. But, I think we’re getting closer. Since Renkl is only 60, I fully expect her to see the day gas-powered leaf blowers get retired.

Now that California, the world’s fourth largest economy, is banning the use of gas-powered small engines, there might be a bigger push to get battery operated leaf blowers on the market. I would love to test one out in the field and report my findings in this blog.

For now, Margaret and I have to wait for better leaf blower technology to arrive. I highly recommend Renkl’s opinion piece.

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